Skate Truth to Power
Grounded in African diasporic perspectives, Brownbody’s mission is to build artistic experiences that disrupt biased narratives and prompt audiences to engage as active participants in the journey. Brownbody accomplishes this through a blend of modern dance, theater, social justice, and figure skating.
What we do
Brownbody affirms the complexity, beauty, vulnerability, strength, resilience, fatigue, fear, honesty, humility, and magic that have and continue to characterize historic and contemporary journeys of so many U.S. based Black communities. It accomplishes this through our donation based learn to skate lessons, community dialogues and interactive workshops, and boundary breaking artistic work that blends multiple artistic genres including figure skating, modern dance, social justice practice, theater, and live and recorded soundscapes.
Through our programming we witness, reflect, dialogue, dance, and heal as we assess if our perspectives stem from destructive historic ideologies and learn how to disempower these belief systems leading to self-defined nourishing change. We offer a donation based learn to skate program, the presentation of artistic work on and off of the ice, a community dialogues/interactive workshops.
Brownbody presents artistic work both on and off of the ice. Brownbody prioritizes representation and is fortunate to work with an all Black cast of professional skaters for its on ice artistic work.
Join us for our donation-based Learn to Skate lessons taught by Brownbody instructors and assistants. No experience required.
Brownbody’s goal with these lessons is to offer a learn to skate experience for youth and adults from Black and Brown communities that centers blackness in the curriculum, format, and structure of the lessons.
Who we are
Deneane Richburg is the founder and Artistic Director of Brownbody. As the creative home for Richburg’s choreographic work, through Brownbody, she honors the complex narratives of U.S. based Black diasporic communities by taking participants on journeys that disrupt assumptions, ideologies, and disenfranchising popular narratives around blackness. As a modern dance choreographer and former competitive figure skater, Richburg is interested in pushing the boundaries of creative expression on the ice via engaging these narratives as a framework in which somatic based movement exploration occurs. Richburg blends different movement worlds and creates work for both the ice and the stage.
Deneane grew up a competitive figure skater—spending time in spaces where she felt she had to check her racial/cultural identity at the door, as the world of competitive skating was immersed in an ideology that excluded her ancestry’s truths. Working and growing in this space, to quote Zora Neale Hurston, she always felt “most colored when [she was] thrown against a sharp white background.” As she got older, she realized she needed to carve out a space for herself and her ancestral history hence her decision to create Brownbody. Richburg received her MFA in dance and choreography from Temple University in 2007, an MA in Afro-American Studies from UW Madison, and a BA in English and African American Studies from Carleton College. Working with Lela Aisha Jones, Richburg was also the Co-founder of The Requisite Movers, a Philadelphia based program that supports the work of Black female choreographers. Deneane has danced for a number of artists including, Chris Walker, Jose Francisco Barroso, Dr. Kariamu Welsh, Lela Aisha Jones and has performed with Off Leash Area, Flyground, and Kariamu and Company. Richburg is a grateful recipient of a 2017 McKnight Choreography Fellowship, administered by the Cowles Center, funded by The McKnight Foundation, a 2019 Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship, and a Dance/USA Fellowship to Artists made possible with generous funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Lela Aisha Jones is the Associate Artistic Director of Brownbody. Lela is an artist scholar, movement performance artist, interdisciplinary collaborator and founder of Lela Aisha Jones | FlyGround, her creative home. A proud native of Tallahassee, FL, she feels quite fortunate to live and make dance in Philadelphia, PA. Lela’s work intimately intertwines personal and collective lived experiences of diasporic blackness as archived in and excavated with the body through dance.
Lela’s most recent choreographic and performance endeavors include Same Story Different Countries Project in Johannesburg and Cape Coast, South Africa (2017) directed by Dr. Lynnette Overby, Nia Love’s g(1)host: lost at sea at Gibney Dance (2019), Onye Ozuzu’s work at Dance Gathering in Lagos, Nigeria (2019), and a commissioned presentation of her work Plight Release and the Diasporic Body at the African Afmerican Museum of Philadelphia with, and in response to, the work of visual artist and scholar Fahamu Pecou (2019). Some of her most influential professional experiences have been in movement practice with Nia Love, Christal Brown | Inspirit, Barak Ade Sole, Moustapha Bangoura, Anssumane Silla, Sulley Imoro, Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, and Urban Bush Women.
Lela earned a B.S. in Health Science Education from the University of Florida, an M.F.A. in dance from Florida State University, a Ph.D. from Texas Woman’s University, and is a new member of the dance faculty at Bryn Mawr College. Her doctoral work was focused nomadic/migrating identities, diasporic citizenship, as well as collective philosophies and practices of integrity in Black and African diasporic dance teaching, choreography, and performance.
Her awards and honors include a 2015 Leeway Foundation Transformation Award and a 2016 Pew Fellowship in the Arts. Lela is grateful to continue her work as an artist scholar, movement performance artist, and interdisciplinary collaborator with Brownbody and as a member of the faculty in the Bryn Mawr College Dance Program.
Michelle Gibbs, Chair
Michelle Corwin Gibbs, Ph.D. is assistant professor of Theater at St. Olaf College where she directs and teaches courses in beginning and advanced acting, script analysis, and introduction to theater. Her scholarly research interests include a spectrum of interdisciplinary studies in Black performance and performativity and critical identity studies in and around The New Negro movement in early 20th century Black modernist theatre. As a solo performance artist, Michelle uses her body as a site for inquiry into how Black racialization and Black female sexualization manifest into performances of affect – teetering between the spaces of tragic/comical and repulsive/alluring. Michelle received a Ph.D. in Theatre from Bowling Green State University, an M.F.A. in Acting from the University of California, Irvine, and a B.A. in Theatre Performance from Western Michigan University.
Ramona Wilson, Vice Chair
Ramona Wilson is a supplier diversity professional with concentrations in finance, human resources, procurement, legislation, budget, and community relations. As Knutson Construction’s diversity director, Ramona Wilson, is a board member and passionate champion for the National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC). Ramona was presented with the “Advocate of the Year” award for her unrelenting commitment to helping the NAMC members secure projects within the construction industry. Some of Ramona’s honors include: receiving a Women of Excellence award, being recognized as one of the top 100 Women Impacting Supplier Diversity by Women Enterprise USA, being recognized as a corporate member of the year by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and being recognized as a Corporate Woman Achiever by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).
Rob Johnson is in his 30th year of working with youth as a youth worker, a youth minister, and a teacher. He’s taught courses at Cretin-Derham Hall, University of St. Thomas, University of MN, and is now the 12th Grade Dean at Breck School, where he’s taught for 15 years. He has spoken at a number of teacher conferences and workshops, including for the National Association of Independent Schools and has facilitated workshops through Innocent Classroom, an organization dedicated to transforming public school education. In 2015, Rob debuted a documentary he produced and directed, on practicing forgiveness which had him him travel to Auschwitz, Poland, to learn about forgiveness connected to the Holocaust. Rob and his wife Wendy have 3 kids, their youngest, Rebekah, is an instructor for Brownbody (killing it!) and skates for SQSA Figure Skating Club.
Alvena has been Brownbody board member for the past 6 years. She has 25 years experience as an Accounting Specialist and is currently employed with the State of Minnesota. Alvena is also a highly skilled step and line dancer. She enjoys teaching, stepping and line dancing with Minnesota’s own Command Steppers.